“inside the soul of European citizens”

European Parliament
Brussels

A Member was warning his colleagues to be sensitive about budgetary issues for next year’s Parliament during one of the political parties’ Working Group meeting today, because of the backdrop of the global financial crisis.
Earlier today I had asked another Member if there is any relationship between simultaneous interpretation and the European heart. He asked what I meant: “the European heart, do you mean the feelings you have as a European?” I explained that I don’t know what it means but I’ve heard people use it when I brought up certain topics.
This meeting provided interpretation in 19 of the official twenty-three languages; no Bulgarian, Danish, Gaelic or Maltese. Estonian was provided but not used during the the 55 minutes that I was present. The Chair used English. On the floor was heard

    Romanian 1 minute = 2%
    Italian 4 minutes = 7%
    Spanish 11 minutes = 20%
    German 11 minutes = 20%
    English 28 minutes = 51%

Not heard: Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovene, and Swedish.
I had the good fortune to also talk today with a Member who was in this meeting, who clarified some of the dynamics for me. There was a great deal of political maneuvering in this meeting, some “brinkmanship” that got a particular compromise through. The Member who got it through “was playing fast and loose with all of us,” according to the Member I spoke with. I noted only one instance of codeswitching into English, which happened during the presentation and debate on this bill. After a rather heated exchange involving more faux “points of order” (see yesterday’s entry), the Member presenting the compromise suddenly asserted, “She agrees with that!”
Categorization is always a challenge. I’ve been speculating about English as the language of control, but I’m also thinking of what another Member said today:

Sometimes you can’t make a point in any language without using a word from another language!

We were discussing the creation and maintenance of a shared, common culture premised upon the use of different languages. This Member named several instances of “artificial invention” – when a word (often in English but not always) has no equivalent in other official languages. Several language communities actively create equivalents in their own language, such as the Greeks who came up with an artificial word for “subsidiarity.” Subsidiarity might seem like an English word (originally Latin), but it became an instrumental term in the European Union jargon from a German context. Likewise, “ombudsman” came originally from Scandinavian languages, particularly Swedish.
This kind of inter-language borrowing and intra-language coinage of new vocabulary is indeed an outgrowth of the multilingual environment, but both phenomena are still premised in a logic of monolinguistic distinction. What I’m trying to do is shift attention away from the language(s) per se, to the social interaction and cultural effects of using multiple languages in the same place and time.

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